Filmmaking | Interviews

Forensic Documentarian

1 Feb , 2003  

Written by Amy Roeder | Posted by:

Filmmaker/forensic psychologist Maryanne Galvin’s creative explorations take her from death row to the kitchens of Boston’s ritziest restaurants.

Maryanne Galvin is busy. Not only is she an award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a psychologist specializing in the criminal mind. How does she juggle such demanding jobs? "I have a very high metabolism," she said, laughing, "I just like to suck the marrow out of life."

Galvin has always been fascinated by the creative process, and by the choices people make as they construct their lives. In her doctoral dissertation in psychology at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, Galvin explored creativity and the ways in which it informs problem solving and decision-making. 

She began her own creative work writing academically in her field, eventually branching out into magazine work. Galvin said that she enjoyed the opportunity to interview artists and musicians and ask about how their work affects their daily lives. Deciding to expand her own creative voice, Galvin enrolled in Emerson College’s screenwriting program and earned an MFA.

After creating training films for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health on the topics of suicide prevention in corrections settings, and assessment and treatment of mentally ill substance abusers, Galvin went on to film the documentary, "Thanatos RX: The Death Penalty Debate in America." She was inspired by an inmate she met while working at a jail. "He was 20 years old and about to begin a life sentence," Galvin said. "He told me that he wished Massachusetts had a death penalty, and that execution would have been a more humane sentence." As a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, Galvin was challenged and intrigued by his opinion.

In "Thanatos," Galvin explores the gray areas of this complex issue, including difficult questions such as who is or isn’t given a death sentence. The film goes beyond the sensational sound bites of television news to provide a deeply personal examination of the issues. Galvin gives voice to a wide variety of perspectives through interviews with family members of homicide victims, current and former death row inmates and experts on both sides of the debate.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, and has been broadcast and distributed nationally and internationally. It has screened at the Northampton Film Festival, Harvard University’s Dudley Film Series, and the Shadow Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film has provoked some strong reactions, but Galvin is especially pleased when "people tell me that it made them think."

After spending time in the hopeless world of death row inmates, Galvin was inspired to take on a more optimistic project. In "Amuse Bouche: A Chef’s Tale," she tells the story of nationally renowned Boston chef, Barbara Lynch, whose "life holds out so much hope." It may seem like a radical departure from "Thanatos," but Galvin sees connections. "They are both about choices," she said.

"Amuse Bouche" is a classic "local girl makes good" story — Lynch grew up in poverty in a South Boston housing project and rose to prominence in Boston’s elite restaurants. Legendary in "Southie," Lynch is devoted to giving back to the community that supported her. More than an inspiring story of one woman’s struggle to achieve her dreams, "Amuse Bouche" also examines the internal and external barriers that keep all women back. Narrated by Boston classical radio host Ron Della Chiesa, the documentary — named after the chef’s complimentary appetizer — combines family photographs, interviews and archival and animated footage with shots of Lynch in action in the kitchen and in moments of quiet reflection. Also making appearances are Boston culinary stars like Todd English and Julia Child, and politicians including Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Lynch’s cousin Congressman Stephen Lynch.

"Amuse Bouche" was awarded Best Domestic Documentary on Food at the 2002 Wine Country Film Festival and has been screened at the Woods Hole Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival and the Foyle Film Festival in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Galvin currently is in production on the documentary "High, Fast and Wonderful," which she describes as a "personal and spiritual quest." In the film, Galvin explores her feelings as a catholic through the stories of four catholic clergy who work with unique populations including racecar drivers, circus performers and migrant workers. She found these men through her "tour guide" Sister Charlotte, a nun at the Catholic Conference of Bishops in Washington DC. "It’s about people on the move, their work and contributions to the world," Galvin said. "[It’s] timely in light of the current climate of Catholic Church bashing." She hopes to have it out by this spring in time for submission to the summer film festivals.

Galvin has trouble deciding what she finds most satisfying about filmmaking. "I enjoy arranging the narrative, writing, shooting. I like it all." She is learning to edit, which she finds "hard, but satisfying. I enjoy the whole process, being able to tell a story creatively through things like archival footage and animation."

She says that would give up her day job to work full-time as a filmmaker if the right paying project came along, but for now she’s happy continuing to suck the marrow out of life as a filmmaker/forensic psychologist. "It’s a nice combination of two of my passions," she said.

For more information about Maryanne Galvin’s films, visit

For more information about Maryanne Galvin’s films, visit